You’ve bought the supplies, filled the backpack, labeled all the things, made the lunch, picked out the outfit, done the hair, and felt the feels. Now, there is one last thing to check off the list before you send them on their way: the first day of school photo.

You just want ONE nice photo of them holding the sign, giving their biggest grin and modeling that cute new outfit. It should be that simple, but this task can be the most stressful part of your morning.

It’s a challenge for many reasons – namely, it’s a new morning routine, everyone has the end-of-summer blues and there are a lot of emotions packed into that one day. Luckily, our Mabel’s Labels staff photographer has some tried-and-true tips to make that first-day photo a positive experience.

Choose the right location.

The first thing you want to think about is where to take the photo. Avoid direct sunlight and find a nice, shady spot with even lighting. If shade is limited, you want to have the sun behind your child as opposed to in front. No one enjoys looking into bright lights and being told to keep their eyes open! If a photo outside isn’t possible, head to the room with the most windows, open up all the blinds and place your child in front of the window angled slightly towards the window looking out. A great way to find good lighting is sticking your hand straight out in front of you, palm facing towards you and study how the light falls on your hand.

Have your camera ready.

The next step is to make sure your picture taking device is all set to go. You don’t want to spend those precious minutes fiddling with your camera batteries or phone settings. This should all be figured out in advance. If possible, take a few test shots before your child is in position. Remember to set the exposure to your child, which is done on most smartphones by simply touching the subject’s face on the screen. This is especially important for outside images where your phone will try to set the exposure to the bright light outside, hiding your child in the shadows. Simply tap the screen where you want the camera to focus, and everything should fall into place. If it’s not working, get a little closer to your child or try a new spot.

Use a little bribery.

During these amateur photo shoots, parents often find themselves repeating unhelpful phrases like “Smile nicely!” or “Let’s see a nice smile!” or “Can you please give me just one nice smile!?” As you might imagine (or perhaps know from experience), this rarely works.

Maybe a small bribe is in order – after all, it is a special occasion. Have your child’s favourite little treat or a small gift standing by – maybe it’s a cool pencil case, a new set of markers, or a decorative accessory for their backpack. Explain that they will receive their mini prize once a “keeper” photo has been captured. This provides added motivation for them and speeds up the process.

Make them laugh.

The window of cooperation for a photo like this is typically no more than two minutes, so you’ll want to work fast. Place your child in that perfect spot you picked out ahead of time. Get that “First Day of Grade ___” sign ready (these are great because it keeps their hands busy) and start snapping.

Instead of having kids say “cheese,” try asking them to say other words that still end with an “ee” sound. Suggest that they say something like “monkey”, “money”, or “I love my mommy!” Some quieter kids don’t necessarily love shouting out a word, so you may need to add some comedy to get a smirk or smile. Sing a silly song or make a goofy face and challenge them not to laugh. The more you let go and have fun with it, the better the response will be.

You can also try a trade-off technique called “pose for pose.” They get to pose however they want for one photo, then afterwards they do the pose you’re asking for. (You can also reverse the sequence and do a “nice” pose followed by a “silly” one as a reward.) This gives them an opportunity to get their silliness out, be creative and express themselves.

If things get desperate, and they simply won’t crack a smile, try some good old-fashioned potty humor. Something about the phrase “Who tooted?” works like a charm with kids of all ages. (Yes, getting a memorable, frame-worthy photo may involve resorting to fart jokes.)

Be realistic and patient.

Rather than feeling the pressure, approach the situation with love and realistic expectations. You know your child best, so if it’s not meant to be, stage the photo on a different day (who’s going to know?).

If the final product doesn’t turn out perfectly, that’s okay. So what if you can’t read the sign, or your child’s hair is a little out of place, or they have an amusing expression on their face? It’s meant to be a fun tradition and a special moment between the two of you before they head off to a new grade. Enjoy the experience and good luck!


Mabel's Labels is the leading provider of personalized labels for the stuff kids tend to lose.

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